Home » A People’s Queering of 20th Century Counter Culture » Selected Excerpts from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish

Selected Excerpts from Foucault’s Discipline and Punish


P. 171

“The exercise of discipline presupposes a mechanism that coerces by means of observation; an apparatus in which the techniques that make it possible to see induce effects of power, and in which, conversely, the means of coercion make those on whom they are applied clearly visible. Slowly, in the course of the classical age, we see the construction of those ‘observatories’ of human multiplicity…using the techniques of subjection and methods of exploitation, an obscure art of light and the visible was secretly preparing a new knowledge of man.”

P. 176

“Hierarchized, continuous and functional surveillance may not be one of the great technical ‘inventions’ of the eighteenth century, but its insidious extension owed its importance to the mechanisms of power that it brought with it. By means of such surveillance, disciplinary power became an ‘integrated’ system, linked from the inside to the economy and to the aims of the mechanisms in which it was practiced. It was also organized as a multiple, automatic and anonymous power; for although surveillance rests on individuals, its functioning is that of a network of relations from top to bottom, but also to a certain extent from bottom to top and laterally; this network ‘holds’ the whole together and traverses it in its entirety with effects of power that derive from one another: supervisors perpetually supervised.”

P. 178

“The workshop, the school, the army were subject to a whole micro-penalty of time (latenesses, absences, interruptions of tasks), of activity (inattention, negligence, lack of zeal), of behavior (impoliteness, disobedience), of speech (idle chatter, insolence), of body (‘incorrect’ attitudes, irregular gestures, lack of cleanliness), of sexuality (impurity, indecency). At the same time, by way of punishment, a whole series of subtle procedures was used, from light physical punishment to minor depravations and petty humiliations. It was a question both of making the slightest departures from correct behavior subject to punishment, and of giving a punitive function to the apparently indifferent elements of the disciplinary apparatus: so that, if necessary, everything might serve to punish the slightest thing…What is specific to the disciplinary penalty is non-observance, that which does not measure up to the rule, that departs from it. The whole indefinite domain of the non-conforming is punishable…”

P. 183

“The perpetual penalty that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes.”

P. 184

“The examination combines the techniques of an observing hierarchy and those of a normalizing judgement. It is a normalizing gaze, a surveillance that makes it possible to qualify, classify and to punish. It establishes over the individuals a visibility through which on differentiates and judges them.


The power of the Norm appears through the disciplines. Is this the new law of modern society? Let us say rather that, since the eighteenth century, it has joined other powers – the Law, the Word (Parole) and the Text, Tradition -imposing new delimitations upon them. The Normal is established as a principle of coercion in teaching with the introduction of a standardized education and the establishment of the ecoles normales (teachers’ training colleges); it is established in the effort to organize a national medical profession and a hospital system capable of operating general norms of health; it is established in the standardization of industrial processes and products (on this topic, one should refer to the important contribution of Canguilhem, 171-91). Like surveillance and with it, normalization becomes one of the greatest instruments of power at the end of the classical age. For the marks that once indicated status, privlege and affiliation were increasingly replaced – or at least supplemented – by a whole range of decrees of normality indicating membership of a homogenous social body but also playing a part in classification, hierarchization and the distribution of rank. In a sense, the power of normalization imposes homogeneity; but it individualises by making it possible to measure gaps, to determine levels, to fix specialties and to render the differences useful by fitting them one to another. It is easy to understand how the power of the norm functions within a system of formal equality, since within a homogeneity that is the rule, the norm introduces, as a useful imperative and a result of measurement, all the shading of individual difference.”

P . 187

“1. The examination transformed the economy of visibility into the exercise of power…Disciplinary power…is exercised through its invisibility; at the same time it imposes on those whom it subjects a principle of compulsory visibility. In discipline, it is the subjects who have to be seen.”

P. 190

“These small techniques of notation, of registration, of constituting files, of arranging facts in columns and tables that are so familiar to us now, were of decisive importance in the epistemological ‘thaw’ of the sciences of the individual. One is no doubt right to pose the Aristotelean problem: is a science of the individual possible and legitimate? A great problem needs great solutions perhaps. But there is a small historical problem of the emergence, towards the end of the eighteenth century, of what might generally be termed the ‘clinical’ sciences; the problem of the entry of the individual (and no longer the species) into the field of knowledge; the problem of the entry of the individual (and no longer the species) into the field of knowledge; the problem of entry of the individual description, of the cross-examination, of anamenesis, to the ‘file’ into the general functioning of scientific discourse. To this simple question of fact, one must no doubt give an answer lacking in ‘nobility’: one should look into these procedures of writing and registration, one should look into the mechanisms of examination, into the formation of the mechanisms of discipline, and the new type of power over bodies. ?In this the birth of the sciences of man? In is probably to be found in these ‘ignoble’ archives, where the modern play of coercion over bodies, gestures and behavior has its beginnings.

P. 194

It is often said that the model of a society that has individuals as its constituent elements is borrowed from the abstract juridical forms of contract and exchange. Mercantile society, according to this view, is represented as a contractual association of isolated juridical subjects. Perhaps. Indeed, the political theory of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries often seems to follow this schema. But it should not be forgotten that there existed at the same period a technique for constituting individuals as correlative elements of power and knowledge. The individual is no doubt the fictitious atom of an ‘ideological’ representation of society; but he is also a reality fabricated by this specific technology of power that I have called ‘discipline’. We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes’, it ‘represses’, it ‘censors’, it ‘abstracts’, it ‘masks’, and it ‘conceals’. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production.

P. 197

“The enclosed segmented space, observed at every point, in which the individuals are inserted in a fixed place, in which the slightest movements are supervised, in which all events are recorded, in which an uninterrupted work of writing links the centre and periphery, in which power is exercised without division, according to a continuous hierarchical figure, in which each individual is constantly located, examined and distributed among the living beings, the sick and the dead – all this constitutes a compact model of the disciplinary mechanism.”

P. 199

All the mechanisms of power which, even today, are disposed around the abnormal individual, to brand him and to alter him…”

P. 215

“‘Discipline'” may be identified neither with an institution nor with an apparatus; it is a type of power, a modality for its exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments, techniques, procedures, levels of application, targets; and it is a ‘physics’ or an ‘anatomy’ of power”

P. 220

In a word, the disciplines are the ensemble of minute technical inventions that made it possible to increase the useful size of the multiplicities by decreasing the inconveniences of power which, in order to make them useful, must control them.”


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